Today in Apple history: iPad mini arrives

Did you own an iPad mini?
Photo: Apple

November 2, 2012: The first-generation iPad mini goes on sale.

Boasting a reduced screen size of 7.9 inches — instead of the then-standard 9.7 inches — the iPad mini is the fifth iPad to be released by Apple. It’s praised for being Apple’s most affordable iPad ever, although some people complain about the lack of a Retina display.

iPad mini: Downsizing to the challenge of rivals

A bit like the iPhone 5c of the following year, the iPad mini was something of a half-hearted attempt at competing with the growing number of budget rivals that had arrived since the first iPad in 2010. These included the likes of the Google Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire HD.

I say “half-hearted” because, like the iPhone 5c and the later iPhone SE, Apple seemingly couldn’t bring itself to dip down too far on either functionality or price point. The mini started at $329 for its most basic 16GB Wi-Fi version, and ran all the way up to $659 for a 64GB model with 4G LTE connectivity.

It was, however, the start of a trend that has become a theme during Tim Cook’s tenure at Apple: introducing new screen sizes to fit what rivals are doing. The iPad mini is one of the first post-Steve Jobs iPads, and at the time it felt very much like a new form factor that had been dictated to Apple, rather than the other way around.

Later examples included the arrival of “phablet” iPhones in 2014. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but in this case it demonstrated how rapidly the tablet world was changing already.

A mini legacy

The first iPad mini was a beautiful device in its own right, with an aluminum chassis that borrowed its coloring from the iPhone 5. It was significantly lighter and slimmer than many of its rivals.

Its biggest failing was the 1,024-by-768 screen resolution, which gave the iPad mini a pixel density of 163 ppi. That was significantly lower than the 216 ppi of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, and well below the 264 ppi of the fourth-gen iPad.

With that said, the iPad mini was a significant product for Apple because it showed a willingness to experiment publicly with different display sizes. In a world where phones have since gotten bigger, there is less space for the iPad mini than there was when it burst onto the scene. Still, it’s interesting to speculate whether, without this device, there even would have been an iPhone 6 Plus.

Did you own the original iPad mini? Leave your comments below.

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